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What do Mumbai, India, Rosario, Argentina, Tombouctou, Mali, Graz, Austria and Johnson County, Iowa have in common? At first glance, it would seem not much. These communities, however, along with several others throughout the world, have committed to being Human Rights communities. Libraries have very important roles in these communities in educating residents to be human rights advocates and helping them to change their municipalities through active participation.
First of all though, exactly where are these Human Rights communities and just what are they? Most continents have them, and the numbers are growing. As of the end of 2005, they included (in addition to the municipalities listed above), Porto Alegre (Brazil), Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), Nagpur (India), Nima/Mamobi, Bongo and Walewale (Ghana), Kati, Kayes and Sikaso (Mali), Abra (Philliphines), Thies (Senegal), Mogale (South Africa) and Kaoshiung (Taiwan).
As for their purpose, according the PDHRE (People's Decade for Human Rights Education) website, Human Rights communities are places where:
"...a whole community examines traditional beliefs, collective memory and aspirations as related to the Universal Declaration of human rights... --Guided by the commitment made and obligations undertaken by their governments - having ratified numerous human rights conventions- all its governing bodies and community institutions and groups, learn about human rights as related to their daily lives and concerns.. --to assure that all the laws, policies, resources and relationship in the community maintain the dignity and serve the well being of all its members.. -Moving to develop a sustainable Human Rights City."
Human Rights communities are thus built "from the bottom up", making education an essential component. If residents do not know about human rights and how local government works, they cannot effectively change their communities.
Education, however, is only the beginning. According to Minar Pimple, Executive Director of PDHRE, residents of Human Rights communities are expected to be citizens, not just inhabitants. This means taking an active role in community government - everything from planning budgets to training police to respect human rights.
What then is the role of libraries in a Human Rights Community? First of all, libraries are essential for informing residents about human rights - both what they are and how to sustain them. To accomplish this, libraries can select and librarians can recommend books and materials that teach and emphasize human rights issues and themes. Displays and programs can heighten and share awareness of pertinent issues. Human rights organizations can be added to directories - and referenced when needed.
The library's role, however, does not stop with education. Libraries are also vital for helping people access the information they need to participate in local government. With the help of librarians, residents can access historical records and artifacts, news articles, and many more materials beneficial and/or essential for awareness and activism.
Most importantly, perhaps, libraries are (or should be) community centers - gathering places for community residents whatever age, race, gender, creed, or any other distinguishing characteristic. Libraries can be instrumental in helping residents decide what human rights issues are most relevant to their communities - and the most effective means of addressing them. By coming together in a common place to learn and hopefully share, inhabitants of all communities can become active participatory citizens.
Developing sustainable human rights cities: Knowing, claiming and securing
our right to be human. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2007 from
Minutes of the informal meeting of the Johnson County board of supervisors: July 7, 2005. (July 7, 2005). Retrieved March 16, 2007 from